The complete package (without a cartridge but including a basic interconnect for the tonearm, a small spirit level and a really excellent instruction manual) will set you back £1395, which I have to judge a considerable bargain. Incidentally, you can also buy the TD160HD as a BC (or basic chassis) model, fitted with a Rega, SME M2, SME oval or blank armboard at a price of £1250. Other factory fitted combinations include the RB300 at £1470, the SME M2/9 at £2500 or the SME 309 at £2800.
In serious analogue terms the price of the TD160HD with the RB250 represents one step up from entry level, the bottom rung on the high-end ladder. However, that doesn’t mean that you can take its performance for granted. Care and attention to meticulous setup pays dividends, and whilst this is mainly a case of doing it properly and checking that you have (rather than any arcane black arts), time spent getting the deck perfectly level, aligning the cartridge – ideally more accurately than the provided Rega single-point protractor allows – and getting cabling and a nice clean mains feed is readily audible in the musical end result. In particular, pay attention to tracking force. Set it initially (preferably using an electronic balance) but then take the trouble to listen to the effect of tiny adjustments up and down. Do it by ear, simply turning the weight a mil or so each time. You’ll soon hit a sweet spot that combines pace and a solid sense of purpose to the music. Over do it and things will start to slow and get stodgy. It makes all the difference between a performance that’s nice, and one that really grabs and holds your attention – and it’s free. Which in many respects sums up the Thorens as far as set up goes. Plug and play it straight from the box and you’ll get a performance that’s perfectly respectable, especially at the price. Do the job properly and you’ll elevate that performance significantly, adding transparency, dynamic range, solidity and a natural sense of musical flow to proceedings.
Running the TD160HD with the Argo mounted and a Crystal arm cable (chosen to match the rest of the cabling in the system rather than the deck specifically) the performance delivered was frankly astonishing for the money. Like its principal competitor, VPI’s Scout, the TD160 completely redefines your expectations as to just how much music you can get from a basic analogue set-up. Compared to the more affordable offerings from Rega and ProJect this is definitely the real deal. The dynamic envelope, bandwidth, transparency and range of expression available puts many a high-end CD player to shame – and quite a few wannabe turntables too. There’s an attractive pace and momentum to music that demands it, a more relaxed ease and expansive fluidity to more introspective material. So KT Tunstall’s ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ has an infectious bounce and drive that picks up effortlessly from the more reflective, stretched-out tempo of ‘Under The Weather’. Rock solid drums propel the track, easily bridging the hesitations and breaks that keep things interesting across the length of this perfectly shaped mini-pop statement. Yet the music slips just as effortlessly into the tactile, almost reggae bass line of ‘Miniature Disasters’ with its deep, deep thuddy bass drum. Too many decks roll the rhythms of these successive tracks together, making them sound same-y when in reality they’re far from it. It’s this chameleon quality that underpins the stellar musical contribution of the Thorens, that allows it to put the music so firmly first. It has an innate, almost preternatural grasp of music’s rhythm and tempo, and an ability to match its pace – and shifts in pace – that allows it to live and breathe. This should come as no surprise to anybody who has heard the Clearlight turntables – but here, combined with the cost benefits of (relatively) large-scale production we discover the benefits at a previously undreamt of price-point. And there’s more: couple the deck’s plug-top power supply into something more sophisticated like a mains regenerator feeding the rest of the system, and its temporal grasp becomes absolutely front-rank, matching any ‘table I’ve heard in this important respect – making for a compellingly enjoyable listening experience.
only record I’ve referred to is a bog-standard commercial pressing of a far from great recording. The best thing about the TD160’s inherent honesty, its reluctance to step forward in the process, is that it allows records to speak for themselves rather than standing over them, pointing out their shortcomings. Likewise, as wonderful as the Argo sounded, the DV-20X, at almost a quarter of the price, was allowed to strut its stuff, sounding well-balanced, grainless and sweetly solid. With the Dynavector installed the ‘table took on a smaller, slightly politer and more constrained quality. It didn’t sound saton or shut-in, it sounded complete and satisfying. Reverting to the Argo, the benefits were hard to miss, it’s just that they made much more sense, were far more apparent going up the scale than down – which is another way of saying that the Thorens will generally deliver as much as it can. So the catchy energy of ‘Suddenly I See’ has a propulsive integrity with the DV-20X that pushes things along, a coherent flow. With the Argo the carefully woven strands and textures, the overdubs and changes in density are teased out, more apparent, adding interest and subtlety to the song. But this isn’t just about the cartridges; it’s about the deck allowing them to do their job.